- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - It’s safe to say Grace Atherton comes from a military family.

Her father was in the Marines. Her grandfather was in the Navy during World War II. Her great-grandfather was in the Navy during World War I, and she has great uncles who were in just about every military branch.

Supporting the troops has always been important to Atherton, who moved to Anderson in August. Over the past six years, she’s devoted countless hours to help deployed soldiers while honoring veterans, The Herald Bulletin reports (https://bit.ly/1r9F2zp).

To raise funds for Soldiers’ Angels, an organization that provides aid and comfort to military men and women and their families, Atherton created a quilt honoring servicemen and women that’s on display at the Indiana War Memorial Museum in Indianapolis.

“It was something I wanted to do to honor them,” she said. “Then fundraising - the whole idea of using the quilt to raise money for care packages - actually came as an idea after I adopted a soldier through Soldiers’ Angels.”

In January 2010, Atherton applied to adopt a soldier, a Soldiers’ Angels program that pairs people with deployed soldiers to send letters and care packages for an extended period of time.

She was paired with a Marine, just like her dad.

For six months, Atherton wrote weekly letters and sent care packages monthly to Sgt. Carvell Lockett. Although she didn’t know where he was and she never received a letter back, she felt connected to Lockett.

“To me, it was kind of like writing your brother overseas, and that’s kind of how it came between us even later,” she said. “It’s like he was part of my family.”

When Lockett returned to the United States, he emailed Atherton thanking her and saying he never expected to receive so much.

“There were so many times that I showed up at work and just didn’t feel like doing anything but would have a letter/care-package from you and after reading my whole attitude would change,” Lockett wrote to her. “You sound like a very beautiful person that took the time to make my days and deployment better and I’m thankful.”

The two still message each other occasionally and are friends on Facebook. When Atherton told Lockett she was thinking about using the quilt to raise money for the organization that brought them together, he told her to go ahead and use their story.

He would do anything to ensure other soldiers got the same support he did.

Now Atherton’s quilt hangs in the lobby of the War Memorial Museum.

The center is a painting that honors military men and women who have served since WWII. It’s surrounded by 58 photos of veterans who served and their signatures, except for those who never made it back home.

Shelbyville native Atherton never expected the quilt to become such a big deal. When she started the project six years ago, she thought it would maybe end up in a small museum in her hometown.

But when she teamed up with Soldiers’ Angels and people started to spread the word on social media, plans for the tribute quilt evolved to helping more soldiers.

“I think everybody goes through times in their life when they just have a lonely time or a difficult time, and it’s encouraging to have support,” Atherton said. “Something I’ve learned a lot, especially through adopting, is for military people, they have the same issues we deal with on a regular basis, but on top of that a lot of times they’re on their own.”

With exposing the quilt to a wider audience in Indianapolis, Atherton and Soldiers’ Angels hope to raise $10,500, which will help send 350 military care packages. For every $250 or more someone donates, Soldiers’ Angels will print and send 10 postcards featuring the center painting to the donor. A print of the painting will be included in each care package, too.

Atherton said monetary donations are a convenient option for people who may not be able to make the commitment of writing a weekly letter or sending a monthly package. But a lot of people have been inspired by the quilt and have asked how they can adopt a soldier.

The quilt has been on display since Memorial Day and was scheduled to come down in November, but it’s been gaining popularity and now is scheduled to stay in the lobby of the War Memorial Museum until Memorial Day 2015.

Atherton hopes more people will hear about the quilt and decide they want to help.

“I think a lot of people in America care about the military,” she said. “It’s something, too, that I think a lot of people want to do something about, but they don’t know how.”

To learn about adopting a soldier or to donate, go to soldiersangels.org. When donating, specify it’s for the Military Tribute Quilt Project so the money goes toward care packages.

___

Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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